Responding to the growing number of Americans who are demanding more restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, Walmart and Kroger are asking shoppers to not open carry unless they are members of law enforcement.
Big box businesses like Walmart and Kroger understand the responsibility—and see the opportunity—in this positioning. In an open letter to Walmart employees, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said the company would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in any Walmart location including in “open carry” states.
These corporate decisions, while not popular among all Americans, are important for regulating their brand image among their consumers. For Walmart, this positioning lends also toward improving their brand among those who, out of principle and for many reasons, have chosen NOT to shop in their stores. With every corporate decision comes backlash, and it’s become clear already that many open carry advocates are beginning to boycott Walmart in favor of stores that either do not take a position on this issue or simply have not made it known.
Issues related to gun rights and ownership have an impact on just about everyone, so it’s no surprise these issues are now a matter of corporate social responsibility. Its no longer just about companies being green or being an inclusive workplace or finding other ways to give back to communities. The issues are becoming more politically charged and citizens are demanding from them more socio-political positioning. Corporations are now figuring out what stands are safe and good for them from a public relations perspective, which ones come with risks and weighing the costs.
Corporate social responsibility as a form of reputation management is an area of marketing applicable to every size of business and organization. As part of a marketing strategy, it’s a way for businesses to get in front of their customers by getting in front of issues with a specific message. Many companies want to make a difference in their communities, regions or world, but the reality is that they want to be seen while making that difference. Whether it’s an act of generosity with some type of community benefit or a new company policy with social impact, there is nothing morally repugnant about putting out the press release or doing the photo op because it can motivate other businesses to similar actions. No company stock is going to plummet and there is no expectation for franchise-wide boycotts to occur for doing the right thing unless it’s just not the right time or they’ve misread public sentiment. And therein lies the challenge for businesses when choosing to respond to social issues and hot political topics—it is not without its risks.
You remember your first business endeavor. You were probably around the age of 10. It was a lemonade stand and the reason you started it is because you wanted to buy something that either your parents couldn’t afford to buy for you or you needed earn the money to do it yourself. So without regard for any cost-benefit analysis, you asked your parents for the sugar, the lemons, and the markers and tag board for your marketing materials and you set up on the front sidewalk in front of your house with your plan to make all the money you needed all before dinner.
You didn’t know at the time that you needed a business plan and a marketing strategy. All you knew was that 1) you needed the cash fast and 2) people get thirsty. There was a definitive need for what you were selling.
But you were selling more than lemonade. You were selling a dream. Every child who got a nickel from their parents to buy your product was thirsty. Every adult who told you to keep the change was sold on your dream—whatever it was. They didn’t care to know.
It gets a little harder to sell anything as a budding entrepreneur. People don’t buy because they think you’re adorable and want to play a role in helping you buy your next toy. They want to buy because you’ve sold them on the notion that your product or service fills a need or solves a problem. That connection has been made in their mind, at least a few moments before they have presented you with payment.
Moving product is as much about selling ideas as much as it is the transaction at the cash register. Successful businesses know this. Many fast food establishments have sold you their product before you even get in the car. If having it “your way” is more important than “fresh never frozen,” then your lunch-time path is predetermined and the work of sales has been reduced to “may I take your order?”
Its never been more important that you know who you are and what you’re selling. Differentiating yourself and your product is one of the clearest ways consumers can answer the question of need or desire. You need to be willing to make your personality, your store, your product and your service look different from the 20 other similar establishments in your community. Standing out is how people begin to make product considerations. You can’t be seen among the competition if you look exactly like them.
Starting a business and having any long-term success is well beyond the anecdote of the lemonade stand. You’re just not cute enough anymore to start a business venture that inspires people much older than you to buy things because it will make you feel good. Before you can move any product or service or persuade people to give to your cause, you have to convince them of the need it fills in their life. Eventually you’ll create a brand reputation that stands out among the competition and that people have learned to trust.
It’s said by so many people, including me, that knowledge is power. So if you have an idea about how your customers and acquaintances think about you, then you have a starting point for knowing what to fix and why (or to know what isn’t broken!). Your brand is the experience others have with your business, product, service, or relationship. As Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Your personal brand can and should be both passive and active. It’s how people know you and what you know about yourself and want to refine. A recent article at Fast Company made some interesting claims about the concept of brand.
Brands shape themselves to what others want to hear. A brand is a politician in a cheap suit with over-whitened teeth that calculates relationships in ROI. A personal brand lives in constant fear of discovery, that others will see them for who they aren’t or what they don’t know.
Whatever the answer is to the question, “How do you want to be known?”, the answer is a goal which may or may not be actually achievable. That I might want to be known as a recording artist with at least one top 40 hit is totally not achievable….it’s an unrealistic fantasy. But that I want to be known as a marketing and leadership coach is not outside the bounds of my skills and experience. Brands can always start off as a lie, but brands that attempt to perpetuate that lie have a high mortality rate.
Where a ‘brand is artificial and phony, ethos is an authentic expression of your values and identity as a leader. Ethos includes your accomplishments, mastery, reputation, knowledge, and credibility. A professional ethos is an incomplete expression of your entire self.
Though I love the fact that a leader in the marketing arena is espousing the teachings of Aristotle in their work, I think the logical fallacy here is that brand and ethos must be contradictory terms. I would suggest that a “brand” is incredibly difficult to fake because you can’t alter a person’s experience with your product or service. You can’t lie to consumers and suggest that they can “have it your way” and not let them have it their way. The market doesn’t allow for false advertising for very long or with brands that don’t deliver the experience they’re attempting to convey through their marketing strategy. Of course, ethos is a great way to understand the depths of an individual or business culture, but a brand is simply reminiscent of the experience a customer has with your product or service—and your logo and entire brand identity serves as a reminder of that experience.
How is your business known? What do your customers say about their experience with your product or service? Branding goes way beyond a logo, color scheme and brand usage guide. Before you get to any of that, you have to decide how you want to be known and go for creating that climate for your customers.
For example, when I get my hair done, I have a pampered experience with lots of fun conversation with my stylist. Of course, I come out with a great product – no more roots and beautiful highlights! – but what I also take away the memory of the experience and its something I look forward to every few weeks. Its not the stylist’s logo that keeps me coming back, its the experience she provides and that is her brand.
The same is said of Starbucks, Apple and McDonald’s. The Starbucks brand begins with the social model they’ve created in each store. You want to have that bold cup of coffee with the chance to meet up with someone you know while working on your laptop or smart device. Starbucks is selling you a social experience. And while Apple might be selling technology and innovation, what you’re buying is innovation and an obvious “cool” factor. McDonald’s isn’t selling you the greatest burger on the planet, nor are they claiming to. McDonald’s brand is consistent flavor and a generally speedy experience.
How do you want to be known? Are customers coming away from your business saying they want to shop with you again? Are you providing a consistent experience that people are talking about?
Branding includes many elements including your logo, advertising, store layout & lighting….and the consumer experience. Starting with the question “how do I want to be known?” will guide decision making in these other areas. For instance, your logo should try to reflect your brand’s personality. If your retail establishment prides itself on minimalism with a lot of space, flat edges and dark lines, your logo shouldn’t embody a lot of noise, curves and color.
Consistency is the key to successful branding. Decide who you are and how you want to be known, and from there your brand identity, advertising and other marketing materials will be easier to make decisions on without being entirely random or arbitrary. You won’t just pick a logo because its pretty, you’ll choose it because it coheres with the image you want to communicate about your business. Your brand will be remembered for the experience you provide. That experience is what differentiates your product or service from the competition. it will be recognized by your company or product logo.
Nonprofit organizations are businesses, not unlike where you buy your groceries, get your hair done, or buy your kids school supplies. But what makes your nonprofit corporation different from those is that you prioritize revenue in terms of fulfilling your mission whereas the for-profit business prioritizes revenue for the sake of the revenue itself.
How your nonprofit is EXACTLY like a business is that you need to utilize many of the same tools for successful start up and growth. You need a business plan, a marketing plan, a budget, and staff or volunteers….all for the purpose of executing and accomplishing your mission and goals. Because nonprofits are often providing for a cause or a service and not a tangible, out-the-door consumable, generating revenue can be a challenge. So I want to share a few ways to overcome challenges to growth at any stage in the life of the non-profit.
Donor Development. Because donors are the lifeblood of your organization, you need to be meeting with them as often as possible, thanking them for past support and updating them on your organization’s status. While you can’t have lunch with everyone who has written a check, you can be sure to connect with those who are top level donors. Share with them the stories about the people you serve who are at the heart of your organization’s mission and get them excited about their involvement in those successes. Let them know their dollars were well spent, thank them for their commitment and partnership and continually inform them about the great things that are happening. But no matter what, make sure you are thanking every single donor who supports your organization in some way, shape or form.
Marketing Strategy. Make sure your marketing materials are current and that you have a robust communications strategy that: 1) keeps your donors informed 2) provides opportunity for new donor acquisition 3) interfaces with the media and 4) continually communicates your mission and shares your stories. Email marketing still plays a significant role for nonprofit organizations as it provides a means to stay in front of your supporters without anything more than their consent to receive emails. Email marketing tools like Mailchimp, Constant Contact and AWeber are examples of affordable options for every size organization and provide templates for the less experienced email designer as well as professional services for getting the custom design you want.
Your website needs to be designed in a responsive format. This means that when its viewed on smaller devices like phones and tablets, it adjusts to its environment instead of becoming impossibly microscopic. The reason this is important is because so many more internet users are looking at websites on their mobile devices and not always their desktops. Don’t make the mistake of losing supporters and followers because your website is difficult to view on these smaller devices. Yes, this will mean a website redesign is in order, but it will be an investment worth making. Don’t cut corners on your internet presence, that’s often how the people in your community first come to know you.
Valued Volunteer Resources. Create a culture where your staff and volunteers can’t help but to share your mission with the people in their world. They love what your organization stands for, that’s why they are involved. Create incentives like volunteer appreciation events and monthly recognitions so that they get more than lip-service for their time – they need to actually feel appreciated and valued. When its clear that an organization values all of its resources and prioritizes its “human” resources, this can inspire others to get involved as well.
Leadership. The face of your organization, whether an Executive Director, board president, operations manager, or marketing/PR director, needs to be someone who reflects the values of the organization, is able to provide clear and concise information about its mission, goals and needs, and is capable of inspiring others to participate, support or just simply share about the organization to other people in other spheres of influence. This person is the ambassador for your cause, so if they struggle to lead the organization internally or externally, they may not be the right person for the position. Don’t underestimate the need for someone who can speak to a crowd of 20 or 200 who also has the disposition to connect with volunteers.
Co-Branding & Collaboration. Find ways to collaborate with other groups and organizations in your community. Doing so doesn’t mean sacrificing current or potential donor dollars to other nonprofits. You want to be seen as a member of an interactive community, not like you’re living on a nonprofit island and no other mission matters. An aspect of reputation management for any business or organization is a willingness to be altruistically involved in a community. If you are involved in an art museum, you could plan to collaborate with local children’s organizations to do workshops. If you represent a cat rescue you might find ways to work with local medical facilities to fulfill animal-assisted therapy needs. In the world of marketing, this is called “co-branding,” a strategic marketing partnership between two separate organizations who collaborate to generate interest from their respective customers. The success of one brand provides for the success of the partner brand.
Growing your nonprofit organization requires a great deal of attention to donor development, volunteer management & support, community engagement, strong leadership, and marketing. Every nonprofit who wants to fulfill their mission and achieve their goals needs to work hard in these 5 areas. I hope the ideas I’ve shared help you to continue to grow and move your organization forward to the next level.
Marketing is a fun, creative activity that can also test your patience, especially the area of reputation management. Everything is marketing, not just your logo, your business card and advertising campaigns. Everything your audience sees you doing both personally and professionally represents your work. So your personal life can become a marketing asset or even a liability if you have any activity in social media and/or are visible in your community. Your brand identity is ultimately the experience your customers have with your product and any time they interact with you as a person. This can lead to your corporate identity being synonymous with your personal public image. To be clear, how people know you CAN impact your business, so it’s crucial to think before you speak, as the saying goes.
So you’re wondering the obvious question, where is the line between my public and private life? Clearly everyone in any business just wants to shed themselves of their work and do their own thing on their own time and not be seen, even if it’s just for a little while. Those days are over. The era of social media has essentially eliminated the privacy anyone ever really enjoyed. Unless you’re inactive on your social channel profiles, the world has access to your pet pictures, social vents and your personal beliefs and values. And because they won’t ever really go away, your words and images on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have the potential to define your brand identity and overshadow your products and services. As soon as you start to share all things personal, the line between your public and private life has essentially been erased.
So the concerns you may have about how to maintain your positive standing as a business owner are best answered by how you choose to be visible. Here are 6 tips to managing your reputation online and off, and preserve a bit of that line that separates the personal image from the public.
- Avoid public discussion on deeply controversial topics. Many families still adhere to the maxim “don’t discuss politics and religion” at holiday gatherings. The point is clear. You can’t change who your family is but you can avoid conflict with the people who are always yours. Do the same with your customers and community. Your business is about selling a product or service you believe in. The second you walk into a dispute entirely unrelated to your work, it may mean a loss in revenue. If someone wants to buy a dozen cookies from your store, should it really matter who they voted for in the last election? You may never restore a relationship with a customer or client if all they remember how angry you got in social media or the argument they witnessed in your store.
- Don’t share your boudoir photos. If you’re on social media and you like to post selfies, be sure that the context in which they are taken doesn’t morally compromise any projects or products you’re involved with. For instance, if your work entails counseling people with alcohol addiction, don’t post images of yourself drinking 6 martinis. If you are the president of a local nonprofit aimed at helping underprivileged children, you should reconsider posting anything that has sexually explicit themes. People shouldn’t judge–but they do.
- Get out in front of a story. If there is some bad press coming your way about something you may or may not have had control over, be the first to address it. Don’t hide from it or give people time to make up their own mind about why you’re not addressing the issue. Take responsibility and practice transparency. Make all apologies that are necessary and take appropriate action to rectify the matter. It’s important to listen, respond and show your willingness to alter policies or procedures to inspire the confidence of your audience, especially those who are paying real close attention to the matter at hand. Marketing strategy often involves crisis communications. To stay in business, you need to be able to manage a crisis and not let it manage you.
- Privatize your emotions. If something or someone on social media or in the community upsets you, don’t fly off the handle. Give serious thought to your reactions and responses. Always keep the long game in mind, because people remember who the keyboard warriors are. If you must address an issue, make sure you’re addressing it with facts. Avoid attacking and insulting people, keep the focus on the issue. Remaining cool, calm and collected in your community is the recipe for a solid reputation.
- Be positive and supportive. If your local and social footprint is known for being an encouragement to others, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Be a team player in the community and in social media. Support the great work that others are doing. This is another great way to get your name and business out there, too. Show empathy when necessary and be a person known for charity and courteousness. People love to support businesses who are known for supporting a community and its causes.
- Keep your social posts to a minimum. Whether for personal or business purposes, if it seems that all you do is hang out on Facebook, this probably is not helpful. Push your business posts only as frequently as necessary. People who follow your business online don’t want to see their feed filled with just your content. Be strategically discreet on the social channels so that people remember who you are instead of wishing you’d go away.